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‘Eid in the Days of Plague’: This short story is born of the imagination in a time of grim reality

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It was an old settlement, yet darkness enveloped it. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. There was a temple on the hilltop opposite the station. If one viewed the settlement from the courtyard of the temple, a minaret was visible.

This was the minaret of the local Jama Masjid, and it was shaped like a rocket. It felt as if this rocket would take off on its own towards space, never to return. There were two small bulbs at the mouth of the rocket. One red, one green. These would be used till some years ago to declare the timings for sehri and iftar.

A mosque had now been constructed in every alley of the settlement, and each mosque had four to five loudspeakers. So now the blessed sound of the azaan would reach every home. In fact, so many sounds would reach each home that sometimes the pious would fight with others in their family at the time for sahri or iftar about whether that sound of the azaan was from their mosque or not.

On the other hand, the electric supply would play hide and seek with the settlement. This can also be explained thus that the administration played hide and seek with the enclave. This is why the bulbs on top of the minaret continued to be of use. The bulbs were connected to a generator that a welfare organisation had donated to the Jama Masjid.

Twenty or twenty-five years ago, the population of the settlement was still quite low. In those years, an epidemic of hate broke out in the city next to the settlement.

During this time, the rakshasas that had run away from Lanka at the time of Lord Ram’s attack also descended as the wrath of the city. It is said that the rakshasas have been wandering around the subcontinent for years and whenever they descend on a city, it comes under the sway of blood and fire. Nobody knows who is behind this veil of blood and fire.

Under the attack of the rakshasas and the outbreak of hatred the city had turned into Lanka. Arson was all around, corpses were everywhere. Thousands of people succumbed to this epidemic of hate. The foreign journalists analysing this pandemic of hate were of the opinion that those people succumbed more to this outbreak whose honourable names included Arabic sounds.

Thus, once the epidemic of hate came to an end and the rakshasas headed towards a different city, those with Arabic names migrated away from the town, leaving their hearts behind. Most people from the city came and settled in this enclave. These people founded the Jama Masjid. Although this is also a fact that this settlement is only an hour’s commute away from the city, but the distance between the lives of those who live here and the city is that of a century.

Pardon me, I was saying that the enclave was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan.

Musarrat Jehan had once gone to the temple on the hilltop opposite the railway station and stared at the settlement for long. She had felt as if the enclave was a refugee camp. Looking at the rocket-shaped minaret she had remembered that its shadow fell on her home every evening. Looking at the mammoth shadow she would often feel that the minaret was really a war missile under whose presence the whole settlement was safe.

Two expert linguists lived in the enclave. Their opinion differed from everyone else. They would say that if most people in a settlement had names constituted of Arabic sounds then it is safe from the epidemic of hate, but the chances for plague increase.

The majority of the people in the enclave were not familiar with these linguists and those who were did not take them seriously. The truth of the matter is that even both the linguists did not take each other’s linguistic opinions seriously, but, coincidentally, both agreed on the linguistic theory about the plague.

Pardon me, I was saying that the settlement was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan.

Musarrat Jehan used to love someone and would meet him on the sly. Twice the boy had taken her to the famous beach of the city, where he had treated her to paani-puri.

There were many turns yet to come in this tale of love, but one day Musarrat, her lover, and her lover’s friend – all disappeared. After three days, under mysterious circumstances, their bodies were found covered in blood, miles away from the enclave. In fact, they were not found, but reported on TV. The mediawallahs were saying that these people had joined the enemies of the country.

Some people were saying that government officials had gauged that these people had caught the plague. It was therefore dangerous for them to have remained alive. There were as many accounts and interpretations as there were newspapers and channels.

Begum Sughra was incapacitated with grief. After a few days when the shock lessened, a few old men and members of political parties of the settlement began to visit her. They would ask Begum Sughra and her relatives many questions in confidence: Did Musarrat refer to the days of the epidemic of hate? Did she give the message of the dissolution of borders? Did she read those books that have the false stories of rise and fall inscribed in them?

With every envoy there would be one or two government officials or spies of the state machinery about whom no one was aware. In fact, one spy did not know about the other. Their faces would be lined with such deep lines of grief that the residents of the building would feel that they must be some relatives of Begum Sughra. Not only would these despondent-faced spies memorise Begum Sughra’s statements word by word, they would also draw a sketch of the expressions of everyone present in their minds.

Following Musarrat’s demise, the theory of the linguists gradually became common knowledge in the settlement. At the corners of the enclave, at tea stalls, colleges, mosques, shrines, and squares, people would include each other in this secret with whispered tones that if most people in a settlement have names constituted of Arabic sounds, then it is safe from the epidemic of hate, but the chances for plague increase.

After a year, Sughra Begum heard that among the people of the settlement and those who knew the settlement this story was commonly accepted that Musarrat had caught the plague and the cause of her mysterious death was also the plague.

Sughra Begum had accepted Musarrat’s mysterious death as Allah’s will, but this she could not accept at any cost that, post-mortem, Musarrat should be connected to such a disease that can be the cause of the destruction of the whole enclave.

She decided that she would go to court to discover the cause of Musarrat’s mysterious death. When she made an announcement about this, some people came forward to help. Most of them were from other places. The officials of the place where Musarrat’s corpse was discovered far away from the enclave tried their best to prevent these busybodies and Begum Sughra’s lawyer from the going to court or to entrap them in its intricacies.

Consequently, the case got stuck in the judicial morass.

Despite this, every now and then, Sughra Begum’s hopes would be raised that the judgment would come in her favour and that Musarrat’s soul would find some peace. But then this hope would turn into a desert of hopelessness, over which she would spread a mat and offer namaz night and day and pray to Allah for his help from the void to prove that Musarrat had not caught the plague. The desert was soulless. Begum Sughra’s prayers became ever longer. Her knees would cramp, and her toes would go numb. The prayer mat was now starting to smell of her tears.

I digressed again –

I was telling that the settlement was old and the darkness was deep. There were buildings spreading from the railway station to the hills as far as the eye could see, but essentially it seemed like a cobbled-up slum. On the third story of a building in this slum was the home of Begum Sughra, the mother of Musarrat Jehan. It was the last night of the Ramzan. Begum Sughra had spent the whole month reciting the Qur’an and in worship. Seeing the waxing crescent of the Eid moon, she turned towards her bed, and her eyes suddenly teared. A flood of Musarrat’s memories rose in her heart.

Every year after the sighting of the Eid moon, most girls from the building would gather on this very bed to get mehndi made on their hands from Musarrat. Musarrat would sit at the edge of the bed and by turn draw flowers and paisleys on each of their hands. The girls would secretly request Musarrat to inscribe an English letter amongst the flowers and paisleys.

Musarrat would demand to know details about their secret love in exchange for inscribing that letter, and the girls would coyly tell many details about their lovers.

Rounds of tea would begin and sweets would appear from the neighbours’ homes. It would be one merry gathering.

But since Musarrat’s mysterious death, once this news spread that she had died of plague, the building’s girls gradually stopped coming to their home. Silence reigned here now. As if everything had died with Musarrat’s mysterious death. Even the flowers on the curtains on the windows had wilted. The colour of the ceiling had faded. Plaster was peeling off the walls in many places. A hinge on a door had come loose. The house had become a grave in which Sughra Begum had been interred alive.

Sughra Begum sat next to the bed and sobbed copiously for long. She did not even remember that she had not turned on the tube light. Darkness had deepened inside the house. Despite the night of the first moon, every corner of the house was shrouded in a speechless calamity and a feeling of deprivation deepening the gaping dark.

If one looked from the courtyard of the temple on the hilltop opposite the railway station, then a strange halo of darkness appeared atop Begum Sughra’s building. It felt as if there was a black hole there, where all light was getting buried. Above the sharp rays of twilight in the sky, the crescent of the new moon was swimming in grief. People had not even gazed upon it to their heart’s content when it sank.

The crescent moon had not only seen the misfortune, despair, and deprivation spreading over Begum Sughra’s home. It had also seen such hellish darkness over many homes in many enclaves across the country, where the residents of these houses all carried this grief and clamour that why was this being said about their family members – who had disappeared or whose mangled corpses had turned up many miles away from their homes or those who were in the state’s custody – that they were affected by the plague?

Translated from “Taauun Ke Dixon Mein Eid”, published in 2014.

source: Scroll.in

 

Books & Authors

Top 10 books that you should read this September.

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Image Courtesy : Christin Hume | Unsplash

Well, hello there readers with a sweet cider like essence of expectations to find a perfect read for your current week’s upcoming list of ‘to be read’ books but to find a book which could totally match up to your expectations and to your amazing wishlist, you obviously need a set of choices to pick from and here’s a list of great books released amidst this pandemic and still convinced the top list of Bestselling books to allow them take a spot in the list.

Onboard are the several writers on this planet but not all come up with the ability to showcase an out of the box content but now this one’s a spot where you’ll find the books which deserves to be in the spotlight.

1. Hindu Refugee Camp, Lahore – Sachin Garg

The partition of India just keeps on happening

History records that the partition of India happened on 15th August, 1947. But for people like Havaldaar Ghulam Ali Limb-Fitter, it’s an event stretched on for years and years.

The year is 1958. The only thing Ghulam Ali wants is to come back to his motherland, his hometown of Lucknow, where his beloved Zahira and his life, wait for him. Instead, he finds himself in a Hindu Refugee Camp in Lahore, injured, starving, where everyone believes he is a jasoos.

Ghulam has tried everything in his power to come back to India. But having served in Pakistani Army against his will, India would not accept him. Trapped across the border with no hope in sight, he begins writing letters to ministers, bureaucrats, journalists, whoever he can. And also, to the love of his life, Zahira Raza, who is his only motivation to continue living.

Zahira Raza had always dreamt of dancing to her heart’s content. But her desire is obstructed by something, to which only Ghulam Ali holds the key. As she waits for him, living with her Naani and her sister, she battles with the challenges of being a working Muslim woman in the Lucknow of the 1950s.

Written as an exchange of letters, ‘Hindu Refugee Camp, Lahore’ is the true story of Havaldaar Ghulam Ali Limb-Fitter, as relevant today as it was when it happened.

Available on Amazon

2. Brahma Rakshas : The Monster Within Sandiip N Paatil

Sarja is a 11years old, sad, and angry boy. At 11, he looks big and strong for his age. His kind mother, Geeta is a rural Indian archetype: the overworked, stressed-out, barely-keeping-it-together single mother. His father is in prison for multiple robbery cases. The villagers are cold and overbearing, and his schooldays are made hellish by bullies. If this wasn’t enough, he has nightmares and uncanny callings from an age-old monstrous peepal tree that stands ominously on his way to school. The legend is that a monster called Brahma Rakshas, living under this tree, for years unknown to people, lures kids with the black devil fruits and then makes them wrestle until one dies.

And, one stormy night, the legend comes true when Sarja meets the Brahma Rakshas.

Set in a fictional village of Deogiri, a small haven of human civilization, away from the din of city life, thiss story is a coming-of-age story of a young boy who goes on an adventure ride filled with riddles and monster wrestling.

Available on Amazon

3. You’ll Always Be My Favorite “What If” – Tshree

The story revolves around the protagonists Amisha and Avyansh. The story starts with Amisha joins an office where Avyansh works. They met each other 15 years ago through an arranged marriage program. Amisha fell in love with him. Both of them love each other but Avyansh didn’t want to marry. Now Amisha is married to Nikhil.

What happens next when they meet after 15 years?
Read the book to know more about the story.

The cover of the book is eye catchy and aptly designed. The title of the book couldn’t have been more apt. I The plot of the story is interesting, different and emotional. It is a perfect blend of love, heartbreak, emotions traditions, responsibilities and professional life. The author has narrated this love story in a detailed manner. She has also described about the corporate world amazingly.

Language used is simple and lucid. Charcaters are well developed and described by the author. Hats off to the author for writing about reality of Indian marriages. I can’t believe that it is author’s debut novel because it’s so perfectly written.

Available on Amazon

4. The Palace Maid – Col Jagadish Kakati

The story revolves around Prince Sundar of the Ahom dynasty in Assam in North-East India during the medieval period. Sundar, the crown prince, is seriously searching for the complete liberation of his soul and thereby shuns the company of women. The Queen Mother forces him to get married against his will to Princess Kanchanmoti, who is in love with Ananga, Sundar’s friend. Expectedly, the marriage ends in disaster.
Enter Shewali, an innocent maidservant. Shewali is devoted to the service of the prince, and she loves to serve. She becomes a victim of jealousy and deceit of the palace staff. The Queen Mother holds Shewali responsible for Sundar’s actions and wreaks vengeance. One day, Sundar calls for Shewali, and she fails to turn up. Where is Shewali?
Now the story moves to the serene, natural surroundings of the Naga Hills where Ananga, in exile, is dwelling in a cave. Sundar arrives there in disguise with a group of Chaodangs. What is his intention?
Written in simple language, the story highlights the pure love of a simple maidservant who becomes a victim of palace intrigues. How her ultimate sacrifice leaves a deep impression on the crown prince’s heart is bound to keep the readers engrossed.

Available on Amazon

5. Where is Najeeb? – Prabuddh Banerjee

For the attention of travellers: here are attached two photos of Jean-Baptiste Talleu, French cycling from France to Asia. He’s 26 years old, 1.80 m tall; he has long curly brown-dark hair, always tied. He’s thin and usually wears beige, brown, blue, or black clothes, never multicoloured. If you see him, please tell him to give us some news, and if you have any helpful information, please write us an e-mail.

• “If I have to take police protection in my own country from my people, then there is something wrong with me; I’m fighting within the framework of the Indian Constitution, and it is not against anyone, but for everyone”.
• It seems he foresaw his death. “For he sketched a man decapitating another man with an axe” that is how his body was found in Aarey (A suburb of Mumbai) sometime later. His murder had all the signs of human sacrifice, but the question is, who killed him? And why?

Available on Amazon

6. Against the flow – Vivek

Viren Jacobs, a college graduate, resorts to hacking for a means of living. When called upon to join the big league to make big money, he hardly has any reason to say no.

Wamika Das decides to live in India after her parents’ death. In her quest to solve her villagers’ problems, she gets off on the wrong foot with some of the most powerful people in the state.

Little did the two know that their paths weren’t meant to cross, but to confluence.

Available on Amazon

7. Blahman and theTerrifying Terror of Jesica – Srijan Kabra

This fiction comic book is a 3rd instalment of amazing adventures of two best friends Aven and Steven, accompanied by our superhero Blahman. All of these tales are inter-connected as well as super independent, that could be read individually or in a sequence. Like before, this time as well, our Superhero ‘Blahman’ is giving us a rollercoaster ride of thrill, adventure, fun and with small little cute brains of kids who wants to save the world. The noble take continues to give us thrill and keeps us glued till the end.

“Blahman and the terrifying terror of Jesica” is a saga which took place right after the 2nd adventure of ‘Zombies Apocalypse’ where we saw that Aven and Steven did defeat the giant zombie and saved the world, however, while doing so, Jesica traps both of them in a translucent box filled with monsters, and now, these two best friends have to find a way out!

Was Jesica planning something more? Will they ever get out? How will they deal with the monsters? What is the way to get out? Let’s find answers in the book, have fun…enjoy the ride!

Available on Amazon

8. Flames from the Souls Sourav Chatterjee

‘Flames from the soul’ is a poetry collection of different emotions which connects the readers thoughts directly like the title of the book. These poems speak directly to the readers about the varied emotions that traversed the souls of the writers and captures the flames of spark from different souls.

Available on Amazon

9. Do not believe in God till you experience Him – Mukul Kumar

A series of mysterious coincidences lead a child from a remote village in India, who would not have any future otherwise, make leaps of progress. His curiosity led him to attend some conferences given by a Brazilian missionary representing a cult in Spain headed by a Spiritual leader from Mexico. There was an instant attraction. The boy cuts his family connections, overlooks his career aspirations and lands up in the monastery in the Cataluña region of Spain to be a missionary. The spiritual head of the cult directs
all the followers to abandon their worldly connections and prepare for the doomsday and creation of a new human race. The followers built safe houses and prepared fervently in line with the instructions of the spiritual head. The doomsday prediction does not materialize and what follows is chaos and disorientation. The protagonist survives to tell his story.”

Available on Amazon

10. Journey of Perseverance – Priyambada Mishra

If you want to be known, you have to speak up first. In the journey of Perseverance’ the author drives us through the meaning of passion, emotion, addiction and culture – all in one to teach us how, if we stay addicted to our cause, we can actually achieve it. When individuals are culturally adept, they naturally tend to adapt to any given environment. The right or wrong of a situation can only be assessed by a person who is deep-rooted in culture and comes from a legacy that already puts others first before themselves. Your world view, the way you think, speak and what you believe are all dependent on the inheritance of culture.

Available on Amazon

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Books & Authors

Framed for a murder in the past? Has now achieved the tag of being an author of 30+ buzzing books

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How do you start with a task all over again after you reach the end of the task and it’s destroyed for some unknown reasons. Life makes one witness enormous kinds of phases both in terms good and bad. This one’s about a person who can be referred to as the kind of person, who’s been through in and out section of the life’s stomach and has understood every aspect of life now.

Anuj Tikku, a renowned writer and actor in the bollywood industry, has been through different stages in life and he’s the same person who was once seen in the movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi back then in 2008.

Anuj has been both the versatile form of human and a talented kind of professional worker who has released over 30+ books by now and all of them, have delivered their required motive.
He has recently came up with a book “Assassinating Modi”. The premise is both scandalous and rather bold. It takes a significant amount of courage to write about something like this. The author has combined political drama with action and adventure. The books enfolds mystery and conspiracy, creating intrigue in the mind of a reader.

Being an actor who was an alleged murder convict of his own father has come so ahead in life, becoming an author of 30+ published books, a renowned blogger and so renowned. He was a prime of suspect of his father’s murder and his life took a huge turn away from bollywood and put his mind to travelling in order to attain peace of mind and that’s the story of his blog TikkusTravelton. If one reads his blogs, he/ she will find out how beautifully he has written about his travel experiences, from his spiritual experiences at Kumb to the very calming Kailash Yatra. He has channelled the things he likes to do, his hobbies into his profession, his main revenue earning means.

After being detained in a false crime of his dad’s murder in April 2012, life’s been more than just a challenging game to Mr. Anuj as it took a while longer than expected for the real killer to be identified which did cost Anuj a fortune of loss in his goodwill and peace of mind but once a fighter is always a fighter and that’s how his journey of being unstoppable started.
Apart from his new books, he has dared to jot down his own life’s saddening and mysterious tales in form of books which are namely; Yes Sir, I killed my dad: A son’s grief, then there’s Unholy tales from Banaras which somehow created a buzz in the reader’s community. His book Yeh! Hai India was displayed on several blogs as a milestone read and such work of success was still somehow unnoticed by people. There’s also a reality based work of research from the author under the title “Chal Nangi Hoja”, where the author has performed a skilled and marvelous work of research on how a porn app is developed beneath the nose of the nation’s judicial system by a known personality and the work witnessed in the book is beyond explainable terms.

*His book, Nineteen* : A Pandemic’s Tale, has the Covid-19 pandemic in the background and is the story of the people of Mumbai and across and India are struggling in the pandemic with many lives at stakes. And he also talks about the importance to keep aside our differences and stand up together as one unit, keeping in mind the saying “We are in this together”.
In one of his interviews, Anuj mentioned his next new release, 27 Days In Taliban, shedding light on the Taliban issue that has put the whole world in shock. He uses motivation and inspiration to write, which makes him a distinguished author and a great personality.

There’s one thing common in his writings that he writes in a swift flow and makes use of simple expressions which can vividly understood by an average reader. His English is not too complex and his books lay focus on the narration rather than the language. In his journey as an author he has written on topics in a wide spectrum – real events, his travel diaries, memoirs, soft erotica and much more. He has an enlightening effect on people and bring to the fore, things that are talked about a lot but people don’t know them in bits and crucks.

 

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Books & Authors

Fiction flourishes in contradiction: Pak author Mira Sethi

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In a country where assertive self-expression can be frowned upon, how to be yourself? Maybe through sneaky networks of solidarity, by improvising identities as one navigates life…

While many of the characters in author Mira Sethi’s debut story collection ‘Are you Enjoying?’ (Bloomsbury India) are professional performers, even those who are not, can be skilled chameleons.

“To live in a society with strong views about what constitutes ‘virtue’ and ‘vice’, means, as a citizen, having to alter and contort one’s authentic self in order to survive. Roshan, the queer chai-boy on the set of ‘Breezy Blessings’ says to Mehak, the actress: ‘About drama, you know nothing.’ She may be the actress, but as a queer person navigating middle-class Pakistani society, he understands everything about drama, and how to communicate effectively via code, innuendo, signal,” Mira Sethi tells IANS.

As the characters in the stories strive for personal freedom, the author asserts that they are in fact trying to throw off the straitjacket imposed by society — how does one negotiate personal freedom in a traditional society?

“I wanted to show both the resilience of my characters, but also the vulnerability of people caught between the pull of the past, and the lure of modernity. Family – the imperatives of fathers and mothers – is a major theme in the book; there was a desire to portray how the burdensome pressures of family (the past) interact with (modern) aspirations of young, urban people,” she says.

Taking around six years to write the book, ‘Breezy Blessings’ was the first story she wrote.

“I would email myself snippets, thoughts and observations. It was only after I wrote the first draft of ‘Breezy Blessings’ (in my gmail inbox!) that I opened a Word document, and began taking myself seriously as a writer,” the writer-actor says with a smile.

Stressing that she draws from the sights and sounds encountered in life – the power dynamics on the set of a show, the ways in which Urdu and English are mixed and her lived experience as an observer and participant in Pakistani life, Sethi works best in the mornings, before she has interacted with anyone, the space when her mind is blank slate.

“I sometimes won’t shower until 5 or 6 pm until I’ve had four good hours of writing. Flow-state writing is hard to achieve, but I find I’m able to do it if I start first thing in the morning. Of course, then getting up to make breakfast is an interruption.”

Talk to her about the brilliant fiction in English from Pakistani origin writers in the past two decades, and she feels that fiction flourishes in contradiction.

Adding that Pakistan is a society in transition, and there is a lot of tension to be harnessed in the space between the laws of the state, not to mention the ways in which they interact with individual desire and autonomy, the author adds, “Young people get their news – and their aspirations – from social media and television. Their desires are secular, but the frameworks into which these people are born are traditionalist.”

Ask her about the experience of growing up in a progressive family in a religious country, and Sethi, daughter of well-known journalists Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, who has also been seen in Pakistani serials including ‘Silvatein’ and ‘Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai’, says, “Identity politics play out in unusual ways in a country like Pakistan, where labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ can mean different things depending on their context. I’m happy my book has been able to navigate the dignity of people who often don’t fit in.”

But has she felt the ‘burden’ of being born to famous parents? “Not when it comes to writing fiction,” she smiles.

For someone who feels that she would be a poorer writer if it weren’t for acting, there is another book brewing, “I believe so, but I’ll find out when there are words, stumbles and fumbles on the page.”

source: The Statesman

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